Schizophrenia Paranoia in The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe

I.               Introduction
The Tale-Tell Heart is one of the popular short stories written by Edgar Allan Poe and was first published in January of 1843. It is a first point of view story which the narrator as the main character. This story tells about the narrator assured his sanity by telling what had happened to him. He killed his master, the old man, because he disliked his big eyes. Every midnight, he came to the old man’s room and shot his eyes with the lantern. However, the old man did not awake. One night, he tried to come to the old man’s room. The old man awakened because of his presence. At that time, the narrator heard “A low, dull, quick sound”, considered as the heart beating, which later became so strong that the neighbor might hear that as well. The old man screamed. It forced the narrator to kill him, mutilated the corpse, and put it under the wood floor.
Hearing the shrieks, one of the neighbors reported that to the police. Shortly afterward, the police came and investigated the whole place. They found nothing related to the shrieks. At that time, the narrator found the heart beating sound became louder. He assured the police about the sound. However it was only in the narrator’s mind. This made the police reinvestigated the room. The story ended by the confession of the narrator’s horrible deed. (
By using the psychoanalytic criticism, the writer chose to analyze the main character. This story was chosen to be analyzed using the Psychoanalytic Criticism because the mental disorder in this short story can be clearly seen.
II.            Objective
Exploring the short story using psychoanalysis as the approach to analyze literary work, the writer expects to discover the mental disorder that occurs in the main character of the story by equalizing the symptoms and the story.
III.          Approach
Psychoanalysis is one of the branches in psychological study that learns about the personality of human. This theory of personality was invented by Austrian neurologist, Sigmund Freud, in late 19th century. In the beginning, psychoanalytic was used as a method of psychotherapy to cure mental disorder by provoking the patients to tell their past memories and feeling (Feist, 2008: 16).
It is slightly different with psychoanalytic criticism. The concern of this criticism is the work of literature as the expression of psychological condition and the personality structure of the author. However, Psychoanalysis gives space to analyze the psychological unconsciousness of the author, the psychological matter from the reader, and also the character in the work (Abrams 1999: 248).
In psychoanalysis, there is a psychological strategy, defense mechanism, which is brought into the unconscious mind to deny or manipulate the reality. Defense mechanism aims to protect the mind or ego from the anxiety or social sanction or cover the mind from something that someone cannot confront with. According to Freud via Feist, there are eight types of defense mechanisms, repression, reaction formation, displacement, fixation, regression, projection, introjections, and sublimation. However, the excessive application of it will lead those mechanisms to compulsive, repetitive, and neurotic behavior (Feist, 2008: 39-44).
The focus in this paper is on the projection. It is defined as to feel other people’s feelings or encouragements, where in fact it is only in the unconsciousness. Projection occurs when the thoughts are rejected from the consciousness into unconscious. The exaggerate use of projection will lead into the mental disorder, schizophrenia paranoia. It is a mental disorder indicated with strong delusion in the form of the feeling of being persecuted by other people (Feist, 2008: 42).
According to Maslim in his book Diagnosis of Mental Disorder, mental disorder is defined as a clinically significant behavior or psychological syndrome or pattern that occurs in individual and is associated with the distress or disability. This is the basis indicating that schizophrenia paranoia as one of the mental disorder.
There are several symptoms that might happen in the patient’s psychology. The first symptom is delusion. It is the thing which exists in the mind but does not exist in reality. The second symptom is hallucination. The unreal sensory experience occurs in the patient’s mind; in this case the sensory is the auditory of the narrator. The third is catatonic behavior. This is the symptom in which the patient will show their uneasiness (Maslim, 2001: 46-48)
IV.              Analysis
More specific than mental disorder, the narrator is judged as the patient of schizophrenia paranoia. To determine the mental disorder in the story, there is, leastwise, one form of schizophrenia paranoia diagnosis that has to be met by the statements in the story.
1.         Delusion
In the story, there are some delusions that existed in the narrator’s mind. Evidences in the narrator deed are exaggerated. However, the exaggeration is also the evidence of the mental disorder.
And now a new anxiety seized me --the sound would be heard by a neighbour!” – This is the quotation in the part where the narrator came into the old man’s room. He assured that he heard a strange sound considered as the heart beat of the old man and it was loud for him. He accused that the sound was too loud that even the neighbor might be able to hear it. This is considered as the delusion because it only exists in the narrator mind and is impossible in the reality that heart beat can be loudly heard, especially by his neighbor, without using a special device to hear the inside part of human body.
It grew louder --louder --louder! And still the men chatted pleasantly, and smiled. Was it possible they heard not? Almighty God! --no, no! They heard! --they suspected! --they knew! --they were making a mockery of my horror!-this I thought, and this I think.” – This is the part when the narrator and the police were having chat in the room. The narrator felt the heart beat sound of the late old man was getting louder. He believed that the police should have heard this too but they pretended not to show it, because the narrator thought that they were mocking him. This is considered as the delusion of the narrator. His thought about the police does not exist in the reality considering the activity of the police that was depicted by the narrator. Normally, when people heard a strange noise that they have not heard before, they would not act pleasantly.
2.      Hallucination     `
 “There came to my ears a low, dull, quick sound, such as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton. I knew that sound well, too. It was the beating of the old man's heart – This quotation is taken when the narrator came to the old man’s room. He believed that the sound he heard that clear was the heart beat of the old man. This hallucination came to the mind of the narrator and could not be proved as in reality. None of heart beat that can be heard by normal person without using a special device to hear human heart beat.
And now at the dead hour of the night, amid the dreadful silence of that old house, so strange a noise as this excited me to uncontrollable terror.” – This narration is in the part when the narrator came into the old man’s room. He again believed that he heard a strange noise that excited him to the terror. This is considered as the hallucination considering that it is impossible that in a dreadful silence house to hear a noise.
Yet the sound increased --and what could I do? It was a low, dull, quick sound --much such a sound as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton. –This is the same statement repeated as in the end part of the story.
“- but the noise steadily increased” – This short phrase is repeated four times in the last paragraph of the story. This hallucination came into the mind of the narrator. This made him believe that the noise, old man’s heart beat, clearly could be clearly heard.
3.      Catatonic Behavior
I arose and argued about trifles, in a high key and with violent gesticulations; but the noise steadily increased. Why would they not be gone? I paced the floor to and fro with heavy strides, as if excited to fury by the observations of the men --but the noise steadily increased. Oh God! what could I do? I foamed --I raved --I swore! I swung the chair upon which I had been sitting, and grated it upon the boards, but the noise arose over all and continually increased.” – These are the evidence of the uneasy actions done by the narrator. This quotation is in the last paragraph of the short story. The narrator felt bothered by the strange noise that haunting him. He first aroused and acted normal even the noise still existed. A while later, the narrator became more uneasy. It is considered by his statement telling that he paced to the floor and fro. His uneasiness worsened as he told that he swung and greated the chair.

V.                 Conclusion
This short story tells about a man that killed his master because he hated his eyes. After killing him, he was haunted by his master’s heart beat sound. This made him confess his horrible deed to the police.
By using psychoanalysis as the approach to analyze the work, the reader might be able to find the mental disorder in it. As in defense mechanism, the exaggerate use will lead to the mental disorder. One of the mental disorders in psychoanalysis is schizophrenia. These symptoms have similarity with the deed of the main character in The Tell-Tale Heart.
The first symptom is the delusion. There are some statements uttered by the narrator as the main character which are considered as the delusion, such as when the narrator heard the heart beat and believed that everybody would hear that too. The second symptom is hallucination. The narrator hallucinated that he had heard his master’s sound of heart beat. And the last symptom is catatonic behavior. This can be seen as written in the last paragraph of the story. As the heart beat sound getting louder, he became more uneasy and did inappropriate actions.


  1. Very Nice and i will give the comment that this analysis is PERFECT...!!!

  2. For the patients, it is important to stay on the medication for as long as advised and not changing the patterns as per your own convenience.
    schizophrenia symptoms

  3. Hi!
    This is great! I am looking for Maslim's book, Diagnosis of Mental Disorder, but I can't find it anywhere. Do you know how first name?
    Thank you in advance!


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